Here are the components of an effective response to a negative online review…

An apology

The customer isn’t always right, but even in cases where a customer isn’t owed an unconditional apology, it’s usually not unreasonable to apologize for the fact that they were unsatisfied with their experience.

Of course, if there was a legitimate faux pas, it’s best to say “sorry” than to pretend that nothing happened.

Apologies can go a long way, both in appeasing the customer and making it clear to potential customers that your business isn’t above conceding that a mistake was made or that something could have been done better.

An explanation

Where appropriate, there is value in providing unhappy customers with an explanation for their subpar experience.

Many times, complaints are the result of a misunderstanding or miscommunication, so clarification can be helpful not only to the customer making a complaint but to other potential customers who might have misunderstandings about your products or services.

Just enough detail

When responding to a negative review, it’s important to respond with some level of specificity so that the customer and others reading the response know that you understood the complaint and didn’t simply write it off.

At the same time, there’s usually little to be gained by writing an excruciatingly long response that rehashes every detail of the situation as you saw it, or worse, that disputes every point of a customer’s complaint.

A professional, non-argumentative tone

Even the most scathing and over-the-top negative reviews should be responded to in a level-headed fashion.

Unprofessional, argumentative responses rarely serve a purpose and can often have the unintended effect of making an unhappy customer’s criticisms look more legitimate than they might otherwise appear to be.

An offer to make things right

Legitimate complaints should never go unrectified if you can help it.

Obviously, it takes two to tango and not everybody will be amenable, but nothing is lost by extending an olive branch to an unhappy customer and offering to make things better, even if it’s just a heartfelt “we hope you’ll give us a second chance.”

An invitation to discuss the complaint privately

Finally, in some cases, it may be appropriate to invite a customer to discuss a complaint privately.

A private discussion is especially warranted when additional details are needed to determine what happened or a complaint is sensitive (eg. it relates to the conduct of a specific employee).

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